“When I had made up my mind to become a musician,” confessed Sir Edward Elgar in a 1904 interview, “and found that the circumstances of life would prevent me, the only thing left for me to do was to teach myself. I saw and learned a great deal about music from the flood of music that passed through my father’s shop (a music shop). I read everything, played everything and listened to everything I could get my hands on. I am self-taught in harmony, counterpoint, form, and in short, everything that makes up the ‘mystery’ of music.”
Edward Elgar was born in Broadheath near Worcester in 1857. His father William Henry Elgar had worked for the London music publishers Coventry & Hollier and set up his own business as a piano tuner in Worcester, where he also opened a music shop in the 1860s. The small town with a population of around 27,000 at the time hosted the Three Choirs festival alongside Gloucester and Hereford, so Elgar, who taught himself to play the piano, organ and bassoon as well as all four string instruments, grew up with the working-class choral tradition. He worked as an organist and orchestral musician, as well as conducting amateur choral societies and orchestras. Elgar’s works began to attract the interest of the British public in the 1890s. The premieres of the oratorio [The Dream of Gerontius] and the Enigma Variations were so successful in London and Birmingham under the baton of the famous Wagner and Brahms conductor Hans Richter, that the composer went on to enjoy the highest national and international recognition. The orchestral marches [Pomp and Circumstance], which are still played today as part of the Last Night of the Proms, ultimately earned Elgar his reputation as a national composer: the first march, with the text “Land of Hope and Glory” by Arthur Benson, became the unofficial English national anthem. Elgar’s Violin Concerto, commissioned by Fritz Kreisler and premiered on 10 November 1910, was hailed by contemporaries as the greatest work of its genre after the Beethoven Concerto.